As a leader, an important skills to master the art of setting boundaries. Why? Because boundaries enable prioritization on what matters most and effectiveness to meet commitments on those priorities. They lead to focus and engagement for you and your team.
Years ago as a new leader, I experienced being pulled in a thousand different directions. As a result, I was managing too many priorities. My effectiveness was not what it should have been. And I was overwhelmed and exhausted.
This experience was one I brought on myself. Because I did not want to disappoint, I said yes to everything. At the time, I did not have boundaries. People saw that, so I was “fair game“; the target of “dump it on her and know she’ll do it.”
When things reached the breaking point, I knew it was time to make a conscientious effort to assert myself and take control. I had to let go of the “disease to please” and the myth of “the more I do, the more promotable I will be.” I had to get smart about my effectiveness on the job and re-engage with a life outside of work.
I hired a coach to help me navigate the choppy waters of being a new leader. I loved my work and wanted to ensure I had the energy required for its demands. The first thing we focused on was developing a backbone and establishing boundaries.
The three-step process we developed served me well back then and continued to serve me as I moved up the ranks. It enables greater value to what matters most – customers, employees and stakeholders.
Here are the three steps:
Acknowledge that boundaries are healthy and productive.
Established well, boundaries do not conflict with flexibility and adaptability. Nor do they impact the importance of being a team player. Instead they can enable a higher degree of productivity and success. The key is to establish boundaries around the priorities of the organization.
Focus on boundaries for the sake of the organizations’s priorities.
Boundaries help you give your time and attention to what matters most. Questions such as the following can help frame your boundaries, putting context around whether you accept, decline or negotiate what is requested from you.
- What are the strategic priorities requiring your attention?
- What are the most pressing needs right now?
- What are the key projects?
- What measurements are driving your work?
- Where do your people need your help?
- What can you do to make their work more productive?
Recognize that boundaries help with options: yes, no, negotiate.
Boundaries give you options. Is it a fit or not? Or is something, but not everything, about it a fit?
First clarify the request. Get curious about what is being requested and why it is important. That way you are able to map it against your priorities. When you are clear on your priorities, you are able to think rationally about the request. You can frame consideration in terms of how those priorities will be impacted or enhanced. Make your decision relevant to the organization’s objectives – as a whole and to the team you are leading. Once you have decided, be succinct and confident with your response.
As a leader, you have an obligation to lead with boundaries established for the sake of clarity and commitment. Knowing what you need to do for your customers, employees and stakeholders enables you to move your organization forward. With resolve to take on the hard work as long as it is the right work, you will be more deliberate with your time. That leads to a less overwhelming workflow and higher levels of productivity and effectiveness.
How might the lack of boundaries be impacting your leadership? What boundaries based upon priorities do you need to establish?